Grand Theft Auto 2
PSone / PC / Dreamcast / October 1999
The design brief for GTA 2 was obviously to make it ‘bigger’, ‘badder’ and ‘better’. But at first glance, little seemed to have changed. Hitting at the end of 1999 (Tomb Raider sparked the 3D revolution as early as 1997), GTA 2 used the familiar top-down perspective, albeit with more detail. Again, missions involved phones and an amoral mix of assassinations, bombings and getaway driving. And as before, you were free - do missions, joyride or simply hunt for secrets, bonus objectives and hidden vehicles. Yet GTA 2 also tweaked and added to this core. Set in a near-future metropolis with three enormous areas (Downtown, Residential and Industrial) the AI had been hugely improved; a high ‘wanted’ level would see SWAT, FBI and finally the Army join the overstretched cops after you, while in addition to stealing cars, GTA 2 also introduced the ability to work semi-honestly as a taxi driver, jump across rooftops or even bolt a set of machineguns to your car. Rockstar also added extra weapons including a silenced Uzi, Tazers, Molotov cocktails and landmines. Landmines! The familiar GTA gameplay was also complicated by the presence of no fewer than seven gangs. Each area was controlled by three, and you could work for any or all of them.
Rockstar’s mantra was this: “Respect is Everything”. Why? Crucially, by allying yourself with one (say, the Zaibatsu), you upset their rivals (the Yakuza or Loonies). Gaining Respect from one gang meant losing it from the others, which in turn could make your life hard. And because you needed to work for more than one gang in order to make enough money to progress, a certain degree of back-stabbing and betrayal was necessary...
While GTA 2 was an improvement, many were disappointed. The novelty was wearing off and its controversial gameplay, aging 2D form, huge size and freeform(ish) gameplay didn’t generate the raw excitement that they once had. Despite its innovations, the sequel did not reinvent Grand Theft Auto - it merely tuned it, refined it. Sales were poor in comparison, and nothing like what Rockstar expected. Or wanted. What the public (if not the House of Lords) really wanted was Grand Theft Auto 3D - all the lawless thrills of GTA and its expanded, extended sequel, but with the immersive, believable graphics of the much admired Driver...